When Grove City High School senior Dane Whittier began wrestling in eighth grade at Brookpark Middle School, his biggest goal was staying in shape for football.
Times have changed.
Whittier soon developed a love for the sport, and now he hopes to cap his prep career by qualifying for the Division I state tournament March 9-11 at Ohio State.
The heavyweight is 31-3 this season and 71-42 for his career.
"I first started playing football (in sixth grade) and a bunch of my fellow football players told me I could wrestle so I came to some practices and I enjoyed it a lot," Whittier said. "I realized how much better shape I was getting in, I ended up slimming down a lot and building a lot of muscle, and that helped with my high-school football career. I have no regrets. I'm glad I started wrestling."
Whittier saw limited action as a freshman while competing at 220 pounds, but he was able to gain valuable guidance by training with 2014 graduate Chandler Evanichko, who began the season at heavyweight before dropping to 220 for the postseason.
Evanichko suffered a rib injury at district that carried over to the state tournament, where he went 0-2 to finish his senior season 40-15.
"Evan and I started wrestling together and he was a big help," Whittier said. "He taught me a lot, especially since it was only my second year (of competing)."
Evanichko has since returned to the program, serving as a volunteer coach along with 2014 graduate Justin Belmonte.
Whittier was 15-19 at heavyweight as a sophomore before improving to 22-15 last season when he earned his first district berth, finishing 0-2.
Following the graduation of several talented heavyweights, including 2016 state champion Kameron Teacher of Central Crossing, Whittier hopes to have a smoother path to state.
Dublin Coffman's Ben Frye is among the favorites to win district March 3 and 4 at Hilliard Darby, but Whittier hopes to be in the mix. The top four finishers in each weight class advance to state.
"It's my senior year and it's my best season in my career," Whittier said. "I hope to place at state this year."
Another challenger could be Darby's Mo Debyan, who has split two matches with Whittier this season. Whittier avenged a 6-4 loss Dec. 7 at Darby by pinning Debyan in 5 minutes, 20 seconds in the finals of the Porter Memorial Tournament on Jan. 14 at Hilliard Bradley.
"From that (loss to Debyan) I realized I had to step up my game and work harder in practice and it's paid off," Whittier said.
Other challengers should be Canal Winchester's Austin Wolfe, Marysville's Tyler Connolly and Zanesville's R.J. Harris.
"Dane has beaten some good guys and when he goes out there with the mentality and instinct of 'I want to win,' he's tough," coach Jay DiMasso said. "When Dane's attitude and mind are in the right place, in the right way, and he comes at you, he's a 265-270 pound kid and it's not soft. He's a strong moving kid."
Whittier was a two-way player for the football team this past season, playing offensive tackle and nose guard.
He also competes in the shot put and discus for the track and field team in the spring.
Whittier plans on pursing a college degree in law enforcement and would like to continue his wrestling career.
The Greyhounds slipped to 1-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division with a 42-40 loss to Pickerington North on Feb. 2.
Boys basketball team
earns impressive win
The boys basketball team entered its contest against Gahanna on Feb. 7 on a three-game winning streak, including a 36-34 victory at Reynoldsburg on Feb. 3.
The Greyhounds outscored the Raiders 23-9 in the second half.
"We're real excited for our kids to get that big win," coach Greg Waits said. "We did a really good job. (Assistant coach) Eric Saxton calls our defense and he did a great job changing defenses. We went from man to 1-2-2 to 2-3 zone and kept them off-balance and kept them guessing all night long and it really paid off for us."
Grove City, which trailed 25-13 at halftime, held the Raiders to two points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth.
Isaiah Dewberry scored 11 points for the Greyhounds, who were 11-8 overall and 4-3 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Gahanna.
"We always tell our kids that you have to be playing your best basketball at the end, going into the stretch run and into the tournament," Waits said. "I like our attitudes, I like our kids. ... The kids have hung in there and just come to practice every day clocking in."
The Division I district tournament draw is Sunday, Feb. 12.
Girls basketball team
learns district draw
The girls basketball team was 13-7 overall and 2-6 in the OCC-Ohio before playing Gahanna on Feb. 7.
The Greyhounds lost to visiting Reynoldsburg 74-63 on Feb. 4 as Gina Conti scored 22 points and Erin Kilmurry added 12.
The Division I district tournament draw was held Feb. 5, and Grove City received the 15th seed and took a first-round bye. The Greyhounds open the tournament Feb. 21 at home against 22nd-seeded Canal Winchester or 25th-seeded Centennial.
Six Grove City student-athletes announced their college decisions Feb. 1.
Josh Burgett will play football at Youngstown State, Lauryn Grcic will play women's soccer at Tiffin, Dylan Schoonover will play football at Capital, Zach Waddle will play football at Ohio State, Conner Walls will play baseball at Campbellsville and Hunter Watts will play football at Thomas More.